WORKS: Arias, lieder, Italian cantatas, spirituals, traditional songs, operetta evergreens
PERFORMER: Various singers incl. Felicia Weathers, Leona Mitchell, Erna Spoorenberg, Virginia Zeani, Graziella Sciutti, James King, James McCracken, Helen Watts, Hilde Gueden & Luigi Alva
CATALOGUE NO: order lines: tel 0171 482 7111; fax 0171 482 6888
Listening to the 1966-7 recordings of the American soprano Felicia Weathers (461 592-2) makes one wonder why this singer is not better remembered today.
After traversing the wide arcs of Verdi’s and Puccini’s phrases with complete security, she demonstrates personality and musicianship in a clutch of American folksongs and spirituals. The voice is immediately appealing, the interpretations powerful and individual.
By her side, Leona Mitchell’s 1980 selections (461 597-2) from a similar operatic repertoire pale somewhat. Mitchell’s voice is undeniably fresh and well-schooled and her technique good, yet overall her interpretations prove less memorable. Her pristine tone proves apt for the lighter Puccini items and for Mascagni’s ‘Son pochi fiori’ (L’amico Fritz), but she lacks the range of colour and feeling for words required for the high-flown drama of Verdi’s ‘Ernani, involami’.
The second half of the disc is devoted to Mozart interpretations by the Dutch soprano Erna Spoorenberg, whose shallow-toned soprano leggiero manner skates over the surface of Ilia’s Idomeneo arias. Despite this and a tendency to sing sharp, Spoorenberg’s spirited delivery of recitative is impressive. Virginia Zeani and Graziella Sciutti (461 589-2) make another complementary couple.
In Zeani’s Puccini collection the overtly emotional manner of the Romanian-born soprano places her firmly within the verismo tradition: few versions of Liù’s ‘Signore, ascolta’ are as involved or involving as hers. The disc is doubly valuable since her commercially recorded output, given the length and distinction of her career in Italian theatres especially, was surprisingly limited. A vivid contrast is provided by Graziella Sciutti, the pinpoint delicacy of whose soprano fitted her naturally to the soubrette repertoire, in which she had few peers.
Effortless charm is conveyed in her Mozart arias, while musicality meets virtuosity in Rosina’s ‘Una voce poco fa’ (Il barbiere di Siviglia) and Juliet’s ‘Oh! quante volte’ (I Capuleti e i Montecchi). A comparison of two American tenors, James King and James McCracken (461 599-2), shows a greater degree of finesse in King’s work. Both had sizeable voices.
King’s bold tone and easy top bring him particular success in the Rome Narration (Tannhäuser) and the Rienzi Prayer. McCracken also delivers the beef, though he’s fulsome in the Faust aria and too forceful in Manrico’s ‘Ah sì, ben mio… ’ (Il trovatore). But the quality of gold in his best notes is real enough, and he reveals the true stature of an Otello (his most celebrated role) in an account of the death scene.
In her collection of cantatas by Handel and Alessandro Scarlatti the Welsh contralto Helen Watts (461 596-2) demonstrates a voice of surpassing quality. This is Handel singing at its best, the runs clear and poised, the tone secure, the direction of the music never in doubt. Lastly, a couple of charmers.
With the inestimable advantage of composer Robert Stolz in the pit, the Viennese soprano Hilde Gueden (461 594-2) represents the operetta traditions of her native city at its best, while the Peruvian tenore di grazia Luigi Alva is heard in a collection of popular Spanish songs including the inevitable ‘Ay-Ay-Ay’ and ‘Amapola’, as well as tributes to the delights of Seville, Toledo and Valencia. Sung at this level of artistry, light music can be spellbinding indeed. George Hall